When I was a sophomore at Tabor, I took a class in Modern European History with George Trautman. Many of my old friends will remember him. He was one of the finest teachers I’ve ever had. On the first class in November, he began a lecture on the benefits and wonders of the Communist political system and philosophy. It was the middle of the Cold War! This was heresy of the first order! I walked my 16-year-old [highly impressionable] self home that afternoon and told my parents what had happened. To my shock, they said nothing. The next day George Trautman began a lecture on the benefits and wonders of the Capitalist political system and philosophy. Again, I went home, told my story, and again my parents said nothing. For the rest of the month George Trautman and 25 eager minds explored the truths and half-truths of every argument. By December I was able to speak intelligently about both systems and the small smile on my father’s face is one memory I will always have. I was never the same after that. George, I can never thank you enough.
Several years later, I was in college in Boston. It was a hotbed of political protest against everything from the ‘establishment’ to Civil Rights to the Viet Nam war. There was always music that fed every aspect of every issue. There was no shortage of rallies and the inevitable Boston PD response to those rallies. Everyone carried a sign, everyone sang a song, and everyone cheered at the speeches that agreed with those that attended. Later I reflected back on those years, those speeches, and the news reporting of what was going on. George was sitting on my shoulder again. “Think, damn you, think!” he would say. “What did they really mean by this? How much of that was really true and how much was barely half-true?” There were more than a few agonizing periods before I realized that much of what I had experienced was surreal. Yes, the issues were real. Civil Rights had to succeed. The Viet Nam war had to end. However, the impact of mostly drug induced children walking the streets and singing songs can’t be more underestimated. There was extraordinary marketing at work and amazing profits were there for the taking.
And so here we are in the new century. We still have issues. The glory is that we will always have issues. We will always want things to be better than they are and we will always disagree on how that can be accomplished. Moreover, the technology has made our efforts that much easier and more prolific. Now we have Facebook and Twitter to carry our signs for us. Now we have YouTube to sing our songs for us. In addition, as always, the signs, songs, and speeches will always say “Hooray for our side.”
But I still wait. With George Trautman on my shoulder, I wait for a generation of thinkers to emerge. Not everyone can be right on gun control, job creation, taxes, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and dozens of other issues. However, there can be a correct answer to each question. Every time I see a new sign on Facebook espousing the virtues of a political party, or that I don’t believe in God if I don’t forward this message, or that Smith and Wesson should protect my home, I cringe.
My message to you is simple. There is no shortage of those who will carry someone else’s sign. Be one of those who think. Seek to separate the truth from the half-truth on every sign. Seek to form your own opinion from reading and studying an issue from all sides. Stop carrying someone else’s sign. It only makes you look foolish.
© J T Weaver